The dog bared its teeth and lurched forward on the leash.
‘Easy, Boris,’ soothed the owner. He held tightly, but, from where she stood, Mindy could see his grip was slipping.
Mindy had been enjoying a picnic in the park with her family. They were lying on the blanket under the shade of the jacaranda; Mindy reading a book to Phoebe and Harry dozing.
‘Mummy, can we feed the ducks?’ Phoebe had asked.
‘In a sec, honey-child. Let me finish the book.’ She lifted her gaze from the illustrated pages of the children’s storybook to look around the park. A couple lying beside each other, fingers touching as they napped in the sun. Another family by the pond, feeding ducks. Bicyclists shooting by on the path. It was idyllic.
‘I might pack up,’ Harry said, stretching. He’d stood, stomped his right foot on the ground.
‘No!’ cried Phoebe.
Mindy wasn’t sure why Harry wanted to leave. They had no plans. She creased her brow in question, but he avoided looking at her.
‘Yes, you and Mummy can feed the ducks while I pack everything away.’ He leaned in to Mindy, and whispered, ‘Don’t take long. I’ll meet you at the car.’
Mindy nodded. She recognised the urgency in his whisper. She’d have to accommodate his needs; it was simply easier. Too often in the early days of their relationship, Mindy attempted to exert her own wishes, but she soon learned, it didn’t take long. She was a smart woman.
‘Come on, Pheebs.’ She reached for her hand and, holding bread in the other, they walked to the pond. The other family was already leaving, and exchanged a smile as they passed each other. Mindy and Phoebe crouched low at the pond’s edge. Mindy ripped apart the bread and handed small chunks to Phoebe, who threw them to the ducks.
The sound of ducks quacking and birds chirping was interrupted by a dog’s bark. Phoebe instinctively moved closer to Mindy. She wrapped her arm around her daughter. More barking, and a voice yelled commands; a child screamed.
‘Come on, let’s find Daddy,’ she murmured while staring in the direction of the commotion. Phoebe clung to Mindy’s leg as they made their way to the park gate.
Now, at the intersection of two paths, she found herself facing the dog, Boris. The owner’s face was puce from the exertion of holding the leash. She pushed Phoebe behind her.
‘Sshhh, Pheebs,’ Mindy whispered, attempting to stop her child from crying. Useless, Mindy wanted to cry herself. She wished Harry was here, that she’d packed up the car.
The owner’s grasp gave way, and the dog ran towards Mindy. Everything around her moved in slow motion, as she forced herself to stay still. Perfectly still.
‘Boris! Stay!’ yelled the owner. He whistled. It was the last thing Mindy heard before the dog leapt and knocked her down.
When she woke, she was blinded by whiteness. Her eyes adjusted; a woman at the end of the narrow bed, holding a clipboard.
‘Mindy, welcome back,’ the woman said. ‘We’ve been waiting for you to wake.’
‘Where am I?’
‘St John’s. You were brought here by ambulance after the attack.’
‘Do you remember anything?’
She shook her head, but as she did she somehow managed to rattle the cogs in her brain. A dog, a man, the dog leaping onto her. Her daughter. Phoebe!
‘My daughter, Phoebe! What happened?’
‘She’s with your husband. She’s safe. The dog’s owner looked after her and Harry pulled the dog off you eventually. It’s little consolation, I know, but the dog has been put down now.’
Mindy sighed, her relief warmed her all over.
‘Just rest for now, Mindy,’ said the nurse. ‘You’re going to be fine.’